Brene 5

Notes on Gratitude

To celebrate the Santa Monica stop of Brené Brown’s book tour, I’m hosting a contest!

Everyone who is signed up to receive my newsletter by midnight on Thursday, October 15, 2015 will have their name entered into a drawing to win a Brené Brown starter kit (see photo). The kit will include the following:

The Gifts of Imperfection, (paperback)
Rising Strong, (hardback)
One beautiful blank journal
One package of four UniBall pens (the best journaling pen ever!)
One package of twenty-four Crayola colored pencils

Having your name entered to win your very own Brené Brown starter kit is easy. Return to the home page, scroll down until you see “Stay Informed,” enter your name and email address, and hit "Subscribe." In a few minutes, you’ll receive a confirmation email sent to your inbox. Click on the link to confirm that you want to subscribe and you’re all done. If you've already subscribed to my newsletter, you don't need to do anything. The newsletter goes out once a week or less. I will be picking a random winner on Friday, October 16, and will announce the winner here on my site, on Facebook, and via email directly to the person. It’s that easy!

I’m excited and grateful to share with you the lessons I learned from Brené that have inspired me the most. One of them I take to heart every day as I sit down to write for this blog and also for my book:  “My story matters because I matter.” (The bottom, righthand photo below is from the art journal I wrote about in Creativity Corner. Read full text here.) On the surface this message seems, perhaps, to be common sense, but for me, I had to work with my whole heart to believe my story mattered. I wrote a little about it in my gratitude post about courage (read full text here). The more I write about it, the more I believe it to be true.

I was fascinated listening to Brené describe that when something hard happens to us, our emotions take the first swing at understanding what it was. Our brains struggle to make sense of what happened. Brains look for patterns. If we give our brain a story, it rewards us. That “a-ha” in our brain is an actual chemical reaction; it is a reward. The narrative we tell ourselves combined with the "a-ha" is the pattern. The problem, she said, is that we’re rewarded regardless of the story’s accuracy.

Brené spoke about the power of writing our stories down. When we write them down, even just a few words or sentences—what she called the SFD (with help from another lady love of mine, Anne LaMott) the “shitty first draft”—we externalize it. We get it out of the cloudy, foggy place in our mind. We bring it out into the light. Now we can examine it, question it. We can determine what other information we need to obtain to make sense of the story and can assess if that initial reaction was appropriate to the situation. The example she gave was a story that happened between her and her husband over some lunch meat. Isn’t that how some of the biggest blow ups happen? Over the smallest stuff? Our spouse or a friend or our child may make an innocuous comment, but we know their subterfuge! We know the comment was really a veiled insult! We’re ready to pick a fight! I often think these things, anyway. My overreactions happen, not because of what the other person said, but because of the story I’m telling myself, my perceptions, about not being good enough, not being enough period. In my house, for example, there may be a deep sigh when we’ve run out of bananas and there isn’t one for breakfast. Horrors! Only the worst mother on the planet would fail to make sure there was a banana for breakfast. Sometimes this is funny; sometimes I really think I’m horrible. Sometimes a sigh just means, "I'm hungry." You get my drift…  

I can’t wait to dig in to Rising Strong. The book’s subtitle reads, “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.” As Brené spoke, I was surprised and happy to discover two main components to getting back up are mindfulness and breathing! “We have to challenge the fallacies in the stories we tell ourselves,” Brené said. The first two steps to doing so are to understand what those stories are and to slow down long enough to acknowledge them so we can find a way to act, not react, to people and situations. This requires practice. Hmmm. Sounds like she broke into my computer and started reading my book’s first draft!

If you’re wondering why I’m having this contest or why I’m having one now, here’s the answer:  Writing this blog and my book are helping to fundamentally change me as a person, and for the better.  Brené said, “The minute you deny your story, it owns you.” I can totally relate to this. I learned the hard way that I had no control over the outcome of my daughter’s story, with mental illness or in general. I had to accept I had no control over anything but me. When I made this realization, I became determined to write the end of my own story—whatever the end may be. A little help from Brené, a blank journal, and a pen is a great way to start. Will you join me?

(If you're interested in hearing some more about perception as it relates to writing memoir, click the link below to listen to Mary Karr on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.)

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